The appeal of Pinterest is hard to understand for those who have yet to post anything to that great pinboard in the cloud. And then once your pin addiction is in full effect, it can be even harder to figure out exactly why you are sinking so much time into the endless stream of neat-looking stuff.
While there’s nothing wrong with simply sharpening your eye and taste by clicking the "Pin It" bookmarklet—we all need a break sometimes—Pinterest can also be used in productive, focused ways. It’s all about having an end goal in mind when you create those pinboards. So if you want to harness Pinterest’s strengths and habit-forming powers, try these exercises.
Plan A Vacation With Friends
Pretty much everywhere you want to visit, eat, drink, stay, or relax on a vacation has a website, and most of them have illustrative pictures. Isn't that convenient? Capitalize on the web's travel-friendly nature by creating a separate pinboard for every city or destination you want to hit up. If you're traveling with other people, nag them to create a Pinterest account if they haven't already, then follow them. Now, head to the board for the city you're visiting, click "Edit Board," then type in their name under the "Who can pin?" section.
Now you can both throw restaurants, hotels, attractions, events, coffee shops, dive bars, or whatever catches your eye onto the board, and you and your travel buddies can see what common themes crop up. It's a lot easier to make sense of than a spreadsheet, and you're always just one click away from getting to a phone number or online booking form. My wife and I are planning a three-city jaunt through Pinterest, and it's helped us realize that, at the least, we should plan to enact a strict diet a few weeks before we leave.
Speaking of vacations, maybe you’ve thought about crashing on a couch in another city for a quick, cheap weekend trip. But the idea of browsing Airbnb for a distant city, with unfamiliar neighborhoods and unknown renters, kills the impulse. Then check out Airbnb’s pinboards, where you’ll find the Best of Austin, Unique New York, Brazilian Bests, and other boards with big, clear pictures of where you’d stay, arranged by city.
There are, in fact, quite a few brands that offer what amounts to a prettier, easier to browse version of their own websites on Pinterest. Etsy, Threadless Tees, Whole Foods, Travel Channel—the list goes on. Searching Google with "Pinterest" before the name of the brand gives you something more akin to a window-shopping experience than almost anything else on the web.
Pinterest pushes you to use its site in a social, casual, fun way. But that’s their branding, not a rule. Single-purpose pinboards can be used for work, or just to explain one concept to one person. Create a nondescript account under an assumed name if you must, or just delete the board once its job is done.
If you’re looking for a certain look from a designer, pin some examples—it's known as a mood board—and send them over. Create a board to brainstorm gift ideas with relatives of your significant other. Pin a batch of articles to illustrate the ideas you’re trying to incorporate into a pitch, statement, or campaign. In short, whenever you’ve created a list of blue links separated by carriage returns, consider whether they’d work better with thumbnail images and much more whitespace.
Read It Later
A lot of apps and services compete for your off-board memory, or what you might call time-shifted consideration. Evernote and Springpad aim for universal capture and productivity, while Instapaper, Pocket (formerly Read It Later), and Readability want to hold your longer articles for when you’ve got time to read.
But consider again the value of a pinboard where you stash the things you want to check out later, no matter if they’re articles, videos, shopping items, or recipes. Other apps can capture and tag nearly anything, sure, but Pinterest often feels lighter, less like work, and looks more inviting when you return to browse through all the stuff you’ve captured. Plus, there’s always the reward of friends and complete strangers re-pinning and dealing out kudos on your great taste.